Any Human Heart, by William Boyd

This 2002 work is a tremendous novel. It is the story of a man’s life, of Logan Gonzalo Mountstuart who experiences the turmoil of the 20th century. It is told through an intermittent journal: from high school to college, from London before World War II to his wartime service, from that service in the Bahamas to a mission in Switzerland, and from post-war London to New York to retirement in France.

The journal approach works perfectly. Indeed, Boyd uses it to enhance a sense of reality, in fact suggesting that this might be a work of non-fiction. This is emphasized by footnotes that explain the real people whom Logan encounters, which include Picasso, Hemingway, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Cyril Connolly, Ian Fleming, and many others. It is further emphasized at the end with an index that highlights the historic events of Logan’s life as well as those individuals of history and art whose life he walks into on these pages.

All of which offers a verisimilitude that I enjoyed—and little of which seemed forced. The long encounter with the Duke and the Duchess, for example, works for me, perhaps because they are brought alive as they welcome this fellow golfer into their life, try to use him, and then dismiss him when rebuffed. Correction: one episode with London anarchists and German terrorists in the 1970s seems extraneous and artificial. What was that all about?

Actually, it is about Logan’s obtuseness, I think. It goes along with a snide reference to Tender is the Night that made me wonder. Was this an opinion of Boyd himself, or, as I hoped, was it to portray a certain shallowness in this hero who calls himself a critic and a writer, but who produces only two early works of criticism and two novels he derides—but talks about being a writer for the rest of his life. In fact, Logan’s dismissal of The Waste Land and his complaint that Ulysses is difficult to read re-enforce this conclusion.

What holds this novel together through all of Logan’s adventures is this voice. He is honest and objective, even if he does not fully understand himself or those around him. And he does not write for effect, at one point criticizing Nabokov’s Ada for its stylistic flourishes. Indeed, one senses this is Boyd defending his own style. Richard Eder in The New York Times Book Review sums up the author’s approach: “Boyd endows his narrator with no special quality of perception or sensibility as he recounts his…exuberant gains, painful reverses, and long-term decline. What he does give him is integrity of voice if not of spirit, the lightest mockery of his own inconsequentiality, and a gracefully chiseled play of sentence and phrase.”

What always impresses me about Boyd is that he takes a different approach to each of his novels. No, the journal form is not itself original, but it works perfectly here. Not least because each journal, each period in Logan’s life, centers around a dramatic development. Such as three student challenges that makes high school interesting. Such as murder and the changing attitudes of the Windsors in Lisbon and the Bahamas. Such as Logan’s lengthy imprisonment in Switzerland. Such as the art gallery he runs in New York for a friend, only to find the friend’s son is embezzling funds. And such as the partisan bickering he encounters in France long after World War II.

What is remarkable about this novel is that Boyd has captured each era that his story covers, as well as the character of Logan from an eager youth to a retrospective old man. Here are bits and pieces of high school and college life, of the Spanish Civil War, of the Blitz, of a Swiss prison, of London literary life, of the New York art world, of revolution in Nigeria, and of French provincial life. But more than that, here are the ambition and confidence of youth, the frustrations of love and professional recognition, the gradual acknowledgement of a thickening, sluggish body, and finally the awareness of aging as the precursor to one’s death.

It is this awareness of growing old that particularly impressed me. It is a remarkable achievement for a writer only in his sixties. Indeed, I wonder if this achievement will be understood by comparatively young critics, who will not have experienced what I myself have in my advanced years. As the New Yorker review said, “He allows Mountstuart’s voice to age like port.”

On another level, this novel captures in one life the experience of an entire era. It is about life in the literary world and the art world. About life in both the military and in marriage. About a life searching for love, finding love, and being denied love. About life that reaches its youthful peak in war, and then its decline as friends die and the body weakens. As Time reported, it carries “the full, devastating force of a lifetime of intermingled joy and pain.”

The title is taken from Henry James: “Never say you know the last word about any human heart.” Which precisely reflects the portrait of Logan that we read. Indeed, Logan does not always understand either himself or the world and the people around him. He thinks he has earned high marks at his Oxford graduation, but has not and cannot understand why. He calls himself a writer, but he does little writing. He seeks love but fails largely to understand women, and does find love for only one brief period. He is even deceived into collaborating with German terrorists. He is an imperfect hero for such a perfect and powerful book—which is, of course, a tribute to the author.

As Boyd himself said in a Book Browse interview: “I wanted to invent my own exemplary figure who could seem almost as real as the real ones and whose life followed a similar pattern: boarding school, university, Paris in the 20s, the rise of Fascism, war, post-war neglect, disillusion, increasing decrepitude, and so on—a long, varied, and rackety life that covered most of the century.” He also said: “I wanted the literary tone of each journal to reflect this, and so the voice subtly changes as you read on: from pretentious school boy to modern young decadent, to bitter realist, to drink soaked cynic, to sage and serene octogenarian, and so forth.”

To sum up, Boyd has become one of my favorite authors. I think this novel may be his best, for its broadness and deceptive depth. That is, it breaks the rules, with its imperfect hero and its episodic journals—each with its own little drama—that reveal more than its hero suspects. (July, 2015)

Quicksilver, by Neal Stephenson

Volume One of the Baroque Cycle (2003). This is an amazing, literate, and intelligent historical novel. It is literate because of its style, even occasional poetic passages, and because of its concerns with the philosophy and morality of its time. It is intelligent because it vividly recreates the culture, the mores, and the history of Europe in the second half of the 17th century.

Its setting centers on London, but also includes Vienna, the cities of central Germany, Paris, Versailles, and major cities of the Netherlands. It covers the end of the brief Catholic monarchy in London, the rival French monarchy, very ambitious under Louis XIV, and the intriguing royal courts in both capitals. And 80 percent of the novel’s characters are persons of history.

Thus, significant, supporting roles are given to Isaac Newton and the German philosopher Leibniz, who contribute to the intellectual history of the era, while other participants are Christopher Wren, Samuel Pepys, John Locke, Robert Hooke, and Christian Huygens. Plus French king Louis XIV who hates the British, and William of Orange as he plots to become King of England.

But this is a work of fiction, even as it is a deep, philosophical, literary exploration of this moment of history. And the main character is the fictional Daniel Waterhouse, who graduates from Cambridge and becomes the secretary of the Royal (Scientific) Society of London, where he meets Newton and the other scientists and intellectuals of the era.

And yet a 916-page novel, almost by definition, requires more than one hero, and after Daniel dominates the first third of the novel we are introduced to Jack Shaftoe, an adventurous Vagabond who has no connection to Waterhouse. And admittedly, this change is confusing. Why has this character been introduced? Well, perhaps it is to expose us to more history, as he encounters Eliza, the book’s heroine, in a tunnel the Turks have built under Vienna to blow up its fortifications. And the second part of the book follows Jack and Eliza as they flee together across central Europe, encountering German intellectuals such as Leibniz, to the Netherlands, where they encounter more scientific and political heroes of history. Whereupon, in final section of the novel, they separate, and in Paris Eliza is made the Countess de la Zeur and dominates the concluding section—along with the return of Daniel Waterhouse.

But to go back to Waterhouse and the start of this novel. We meet him as an elderly man in Massachusetts in 1713. It is an intriguing opening, as he receives a mysterious message from a Princess Caroline, whom we will meet at the end of the novel when, years earlier, she is six-years-old. An old friend Enoch Root from England delivers this message to Daniel, which sends him off on a dangerous sea voyage back to London—a voyage that alternates with Daniel’s early life at Cambridge, where he meets many historic youths who will later ply a major role in science and in history. Indeed, this switching back and forth in time adds confusion, for we do not know if the emphasis of the novel will be on the events of Daniel’s youth, or what he is going back to.

As the second part begins, however, we see where the novel’s divisions lie. It has begun with Daniel’s youth in the 1660s and his Royal Society years the 1670s, when he also experiences the Plague and the Great Fire of London. Now, we continue with Jack Shaftoe’s trek across Europe with Eliza in the 1680s; and then the final third ends in the late 1680s with Daniel Waterhouse’s adventures in London as a Protestant king is restored, and then with Eliza’s adventures as the ambitious French king invades the German states.

The final chapters of this novel are somewhat disappointing, for three reasons. First, the author frequently resorts to long letters that do not dramatize the action but summarize it, no doubt because he needs to cover a lot of ground as he bring us up to date on the history of the times. This is climaxed by an especially long letter from Eliza that summarizes her adventures in giving birth, a private event that has no repercussions, at least in this novel.

And, second, this is followed by an unexploded bomb of a finale, when Daniel’s friends plot to arrange an operation on him for kidney stones. We know he survives, because he is living in Massachusetts many years later; and so this operation has no apparent significance except to offer at the end a cliff-hanger moment that leaves us in false suspense.

And, third, the most frustrating aspect of this novel is that it has no real ending, that it simply leads into the follow-up sequels of The Baroque Cycle. It is particularly frustrating because there is no outcome to the original set-up chapter, of Daniel being called back to England, and to agreeing to risk his life on a sea voyage. What added to my own frustration is that I did not understand, on first reading, the reason for Daniel’s return: as a go-between to help reconcile the dispute between Leibniz and Isaac Newton, and their followers, over the invention of calculus—a dispute that is holding back the development of scientific thought in Europe.

But despite all this, I found this novel to be amazing, mainly because of its vivid historic content. I was continually impressed by the details, all of them so pertinent to the story. Details about the geography, the means of travel, the rural life of the poor, and the contrasting wealth and dirt of the cities. Also details about the rivalry among countries, among monarchs, among cities, among various court factions. And explorations in depth of European culture, with the contrasts among philosophers, scientists, religious leaders, and the different social strata.

The richness of this novel is magnified by the philosophic, religious, and human contrasts it offers. Such contrasts include Protestant vs. Catholic, religion vs. science, England vs. France, power vs. conscience, status quo vs. revolution, free will vs. predestination, fresh ideas vs. conformity, free communication vs. cryptography, tradition vs. innovation, corruption vs. integrity, etc., etc.

Stephenson had to have done a tremendous amount of research, but the real accomplishment was to have the concentration to hold all of it in his memory bank until it was appropriate to use. And then, finally, weaving it naturally into his story, usually through the observations of his characters, although at times in those letters, a method that I became tired of.

There are some memorable scenes in this novel, although the Plague and the Great Fire have more a vivid presence than a dramatic effect. The most memorable scene for me was the rescue by Eliza and friends of William of Orange as he indulges in his usual morning ride along a Netherlands beach. Also vivid is Jack’s rescue of Eliza in the tunnel under Vienna. On the other hand, when Daniel is memorably imprisoned in the Tower of London, his rescue by Jack’s brother Bob seems quite arbitrary and coincidental.

What I do not accept from the critics is any categorizing this work as a science fiction novel, even if it did earn an Arthur C. Clarke Award. Perhaps past Stephenson works were science fiction, but for me this work is completely historic. Yes, a modern sensibility wrote it, which undoubtedly is why I enjoyed it. But this work explores the past, and internally it belongs to the past.

Steven Poole in The Guardian calls Quicksilver a “great fantastical boiling pot of theories about science, money, war and much else, by turns broadly picaresque and microscopically technical, sometimes over-dense and sometimes too sketchy, flawed but unarguably magnificent.” I would agree with everything except the suggestion of fantasy.

I have held this novel on my shelves for a long while, in part hesitating to start a 900-page novel and in part waiting to find the successor novels in the trilogy. Now, I wish I had fond those novels, so much have I enjoyed this one. And also because it leaves so much uncertainty about the future fate of Daniel, Eliza, and Jack.

We leave Jack, for example, as a prisoner in a pirate galley. Has he exited the book completely? One suspects Daniel will become the main protagonist, in part because some critics have seen in this work a commentary on contemporary culture; and at the core of Newton’s and Leibniz’ researches into numbers is the germ of what will become our computer age. And we must remember that his mission is apparently to be to reconcile those two figures. On the other hand, Eliza has become so adept at politics and numbers, perhaps she will emerge as the more significant character, especially because of her continuing emergence as a financial power-broker. In any event, I look forward to continuing this saga. (September, 2014)

A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens

This 1859 work is not the real Dickens, the classic Dickens. I wanted to return to a classic of my high school days, and I chose this work both because I recalled its strong narrative drive and because I still have an interest in the French Revolution.

But, while this work did not offer what I had expected, I found that from the beginning I was in the hands of a master. Dickens quickly proved himself in the control of his material, and he also exhibited a rich, rewarding style. His famous opening, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” certainly reflects this. Moreover, the initial focus on the English bank, Tellson’s, that does business in France, and the mysterious mission of Jarvis Lorry, a bank manager, both drew me into the novel and introduced the contrasting backgrounds of England and France, as well as a few of the main characters.

And yet as I moved further into the work, I sensed considerable preparatory work, such as the London trial of Darnay and his similar appearance to Sidney Carton enabling him to avoid sentencing. Dickens was also introducing here the power of the mob and the themes of innocence and injustice. Not to forget that the title reflected his wish to create similarities between a civil London society and a different, revolutionary French society.

I could also see him setting up his dramatic finale, especially when Sidney Carton, not a strongly drawn character, one of simple contradictions, swears his love and loyalty to the golden heroine Lucie Manette, whom Charles Darnay also loves. Indeed, for me, Darnay is the more interesting character, as a former French aristocrat who has rejected his cruel, arbitrary ancestors and turned English gentleman.

So slowly, this novel moved from a classic work for me to very rich historical fiction. This was Dickens using all his literary skills, but using them in the interest of his narrative. Most prominent is a resurrection theme, starting with Carton’s continual repetition of “I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord,” as he commits himself to saving the life of Darnay. It is a resurrection theme that begins on the opening pages with the message, “recalled to life,” that Lorry sends back to his bank. It is also reflected in the rescue, and then revival, of Dr. Manette, Lucie’s father, as well as Darnay’s triple (London, Paris, and Paris) rescue from an evil fate.

Another prominent theme is sacrifice and redemption. By Sidney Carton, especially. But also Darnay, who has given up his wealth and title for a sense of justice. And just so for Dr. Manette, who sacrificed 18 years of his life. While a corollary suggests the sacrifice of one, Darnay, for the many, and the sacrifice of the many to satisfy the one, such as Madam Defarge.

Antonio Conejos has perceptively written: “The resulting irony is that while Darnay returns to save a common man (in the singular sense), it is the common man (in the collective sense) that will be the death of him…. Predictably the mob cares nothing for his noble ideals, the honorable nature of his trip or the fact that he has renounced his name and chosen to make his own way in England. The crowd must have all aristocratic blood, and Darnay is swiftly imprisoned upon his return….This conflict is the essence of the Tale of Two Cities. On one hand you have grand, ambitions movements, full of generalizations, abstract sentiment and vague rhetoric. On the other you have individuals who…are noble people…because they are sound enough to exercise their own proper judgment.”

Dickens himself wrote that he did not emphasize characterizations when he wrote this novel, that he wished the emphasis to be on the narrative. I would note, however, that his work is most effective when he keeps his characters in the foreground. The work is not nearly as effective, for example, when he leaves his characters in order to narrate certain historic moments, such as the storming of the Bastille. One feels he was writing then out of research then, rather than out of a personal interpretation of an experience.

One character continually cited by critics is Madam Defarge, whom they say outshines the other characters in her determination, her evil, and her characteristic knitting. She does dominate everyone in her scenes, especially her husband who once served Dr. Minette. But for Dickens, she balances the altruistic Sidney Carton, as the author contrasts the evil and the goodness to be found in both London and Parisian societies. Apparently, Dickens was drawn to this subject by the contradictions he saw everywhere in the lives of the wealthy and the poor, the powerful and the weak. And what happens when the poor become powerful and the wealthy become weak.

I would also note that, as dramatic as some of the chapters are, I often found it difficult to remember where the action left off when I returned to the novel. This suggests a lack of continuity, of one development leading inevitably to the next. Not least because this is a very complicated plot, and at times appears to be more the author moving on to a new development.

For example, when Darnay returns to Paris in order to save a colleague who has been arrested. This very arbitrarily sets up the long dramatic finale. There is also Carton fortuitously encountering a British spy, Solomon Pross, and blackmailing him into helping to save Darnay. Finally, there is Dr. Minette’s letter of long ago, found in the ruins of the Bastille. It suddenly appears at an (in)opportune moment, and is quite long for the circumstances under which it was written.

But beyond the narrative momentum, the lack of continuity may also reflect the creation of the novel, which originally appeared as 31 weekly installments. Which was typical of Dickens’ era, and particularly of himself.

To conclude, I should try more of Dickens before reaching any conclusions about him. This is out of his mainstream; it is not the personal story of a youth or of English society. Yet one can see why it was introduced into high school classrooms of the past: its history, its balance of good and evil, its strong narrative drive, and its resurrection theme. (August, 2014)

The Golden Bowl, by Henry James

I have been a great fan of Henry James. But for some reason I did not get around to reading The Golden Bowl, written in 1904. Perhaps because I had heard that it was in James’ later style, and was a difficult book.

In any event, I tried reading the novel a few years ago, and could not get past the first 50 pages. They were too dense, and seemed to be going nowhere.

So now, I am trying again. I am up to page 200, and it is difficult going. I am not sure right now if I am going to finish the novel, or give up. I certainly had the same difficulty in reading the first 50 pages. We begin inside the Prince’s head before he marries Maggie, and every sentence seems to have many clauses with multi qualifiers, as James has his hero consider all the possible effects of a particular thought or action. Plus, nothing seems to be happening.

When, finally, the characters begin talking to each other, we leave what has been exposition and interest begins with the interaction of these characters. Finally, the narrative is being dramatized. I have not read or seen any of Henry James’ plays, but I know he turned to playwriting late in his career. I would surmise this was because he liked writing dialogue, and perhaps realized he was good at it. I do know I myself enjoyed his dialogue in his earlier novels.

James follows these interesting dialogues, however, with long pages of more exposition, with some paragraphs lasting more than a page. He does this, I believe, because he has developed a rich knowledge of the contradictions of the mind and of human emotions, and he imparts these contradictions to his characters in order to establish a lifelike richness to his characterizations.

But what he does not realize is that the richness of these contradictions comes between him and his reader, and instead of the dramatic action we seek from his characters we endure endless introspection. His purpose may be admirable: to establish a rich lifelike context, whether of the atmosphere, a person’s thinking, or the ramifications of an action. But in truth, I have found myself skimming over those long paragraphs that freeze the action so that James can probe the complex thinking of these characters—long paragraphs that advance possibilities, but do not advance the story.

The story itself is about two couples. Maggie has married Amerigo, the Prince. Charlotte has married Maggie’s father, Adam Verver. Maggie and Charlotte are longtime girl friends. Charlotte and the Prince were once (this is the 19th century) lovers. Complications ensue among these basically good people. The complications are exasperated by the gossipy Fanny Assingham, who keeps confiding to the reader the ramifications of these relationships, as we listen to her and her husband, Bob, the Colonel.

As we move from Book First, the Prince’s view, to Book Second, the Princesses’ (Maggie’s) view, we learn through Mrs. Assingham the issue that this novel addresses. It is that Maggie has remained close to her father, and is thus withholding her attention from her husband. This appears to result in the Prince renewing his emotional tie to Charlotte, who, in turn, finds herself less attached to her husband, because of Maggies’ caring love of him, her father.

So the issue becomes twofold. Will Maggie realize the reason for the renewed relationship between her husband, the Prince, and Charlotte, and will she trust them? And will her father, Adam Verver, realize that his wife Charlotte is giving her attention to the Prince rather than to him? Finally, how will Maggie and her father react if they discover that her love for her father has reopened that former relationship?

The answers have drawn me into the second half of the novel.

What is initially disappointing is that the first 90 pages of the second half employ what I am calling exposition, which means a narrative of Maggie’s thinking rather than a dramatization of what she is thinking and doing. This raises the question of why James has taken this approach. Yes, it saves space, saves pages, but I think it is because James has so much knowledge of how the mind works that he wants to show its nuances, and thinks that to explore and reveal actions through the mind is the best way to establish the reality of his characters. Whereas, I prefer to reveal character through action, including conversation—rather than through what I would term a more static approach, through the depths of the mind.

Another source of this approach I hesitate to introduce. It is that this is James’ last novel, and that perhaps, perhaps, he has found it difficult to find the concentration to turn a somewhat conceptual concept, his plot, into dramatic action. That he outlined where he wanted the story to go but found it required considerable effort to dramatize where he wanted it to go. And he soon turned to playwriting precisely because he was comfortable with dialogue, and a play does not have the complexity of a novel.

What also may be behind my reaction is that I have not been able to follow the complexity of Maggie’s thinking, or of the Prince’s thinking. There may well be much more to these internal musings than I am aware of, and this master should receive full credit for that subtle treatment. However, given my inability to follow some of these musing has been one reason, I admit, that I have skimmed through those long paragraphs of little action.

On the other hand, there is also the issue of the actual musings of these characters, especially those of Maggie. They are of minor significance in the external lives of these characters. Maggie’s suspicions of the faithfulness of her husband and her best friend arise in her imagination; and her speculations lead to no external action until the end, and then it might be better described as inaction. The subtlety behind her thinking is that she does not wish her father to know her suspicions, for fear it will destroy his marriage, his happiness, as well as her own relationships with both him and her own husband. Thus, she achieves as much as she can by inaction.

What I will grant, however, is that as inconsequential as Maggie’s suspicions are, James knows how to write a scene in which she confronts, first, Fanny Assingham, and then her husband, the Prince, with her suspicions. This may well be the scene that James saw as the turning point of this novel.

The golden bowl of the title also plays a role here, and a very appropriate one. Indeed, it is a symbol of Maggie’s relationship with her father and with Charlotte. For it has a crack. And Fanny Assingham plays a major role in its fate. For Maggie, the issue is why, earlier in the novel, Charlotte was prepared to buy the bowl for the Prince. And the issue for me now is the logic behind how Maggie learns of that earlier encounter in the antique shop, and how she twists it into meaning something significant to her.

Otherwise, this confrontational scene with the vase reminded me of the old, the earlier James, whom I so admired. For it is marvelous dialogue, and truly works as a symbol of Maggie’s psychological fragility.

In passing, I would note that most of the book’s earlier confrontations in dialogue form concern the Assinghams, either between themselves or hers with Maggie; and they clearly exist to explain to the reader the ramifications that so concern Maggie.

The ending begins with final confrontation scenes, in dialogue, between Maggie and Charlotte and then Maggie and her father. It seemed to me to be a perfect ending, with Maggie resolving her situation with each of these people who are important to her. But then we read more than 25 pages of narrative exposition before we get to two more conversations, one again between Maggie and Charlotte that bring a change in all the relationships. It seems to me that James wanted here to give his novel a new twist at the end, but for me it was far from necessary, much less in any way significantly revealing of Maggie. For James, perhaps, it brought a greater sense of completion. On the other hand, I am thinking here of the overall situation, whereas James may have decided that it important that his hero Maggie change from being a person who only reacts to others to one who herself acts on others.

However, I do have to admire the sure, confident technique of the final pages‑—its resolution of the relationship between Maggie and her father and Maggie and her husband. Which, I think, is intended to represent the completeness of Maggie’s portrait. For James keeps us uncertain until these final pages. And even then, those final relationships are elusive to this reader. Yes, Maggie has maneuvered them as she wished, but they have also taken their own initiative in reaching the same conclusion. Indeed, both the Prince and Charlotte agree, in effect, to give up each other. Thus, there is goodness in each of these four characters who have, for various reasons, put themselves into this difficult situation. And for Maggie, what matters is her decision that her loyalty be, first, with her husband, whereas previously it has been with her father.

And yet, it is such a slight obstacle that this novel has resolved. An obstacle that Maggie initially creates in her mind. That is, her view of the relationships among these two couples. Which becomes a greater obstacle when it transforms itself into the tension between her love of her father and her love of her husband. However…it is still an obstacle that lies within their three minds. It does not exist in their external world. Which, in turn, shows us what interested James in this stage of his career: the internal world.

In an introduction, Richard Brett has offered some interesting ideas. He asks: “What is the point of this slight, breathlessly refined action? How does it come to seem both trivial and profound?”

And: “The people are characteristically concerned with the questions of where they are, what do they know, what do others know, what can be said, what can’t be said, what can others say or not say, do or not do” And this certainly captures the narrative exposition that continually turned me off.

He also suggests that the wealthy Maggie wishing to buy a prince for his social ranking and to “buy” Charlotte for her lonely father “may well seem a guiltier thing than the adultery committed against them and which, in any event, they have themselves provoked by the logic of their bargains.”

He continues: “James point, perhaps first, is that no matter what the original appearance of the morality of the Ververs’ bargains, all four characters are mutually implicated in them; all give and all take; and further all are transformed by their interconnectedness.”

In the end, this is a story of love. Of Maggie’s for her father, and of Maggie’s for her husband. Not to forget that between the Prince and Charlotte. Indeed, Maggie realizes, for them all, that giving up one love can be a commitment of love to another. And Brett asks “But how else is love to be conceived…if it is not the allowance to others of as much freedom as one assumes for oneself.”

So what I am evaluating is the effectiveness of this portrayal of love requiring a sacrifice, when that sacrifice is explored too much within the characters’ minds rather than in any external action. Yes, these characters, and most of James’ characters, live through their consciousness more than through their body; but there was too much of that consciousness here for my taste. There was too much subtlety, too much goodness, in the actions of these characters; too much speculating that if I do this to achieve my good end, he or she will do that to achieve their good end.

In sum, this was a novel to struggle through. In part because of its complex style. In part because of its narrative rather than dramatic approach. And in part because the drama is inside these characters rather than, as in most novels, in the physical world. James was obviously drawn here to that internal world, much as Joyce was when he used another format. Perhaps that new knowledge of the mind was an avenue novelists wished to explore at the turn of the 20th century. However, I also wonder whether or not James himself was dissatisfied with this novel. And wonder if that influenced his turning thereafter to the stage. (July, 2014)